Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lord Nesmith or Papa Russ?

Ten years ago, I was surfing the internets, looking up any recent news about The Monkees or Michael Nesmith, when I came across a post on a message board.
It was announcing a Michael Nesmith tribute album to be put out by Wash DC alt. country label, Dren Records.
I immediately sprang into action, writing to the guy, explaining who I was, who my band (The Aloha Steamtrain) was, and how we could get Bruce Tull to play pedal steel.
I knew that any alt. country label head worth his salt would instantly know the name Bruce Tull (Scud Mountain Boys, Lo Fine, etc etc).
After hitting "send", I decided I'd better inform the rest of the band...and Bruce.
One Niall Hood emailed me back saying "uh oh, you may be a day late and a dollar short, son...however, no one has covered 'Joanne', so if you can record that and get it to me in 48 hours, you can be on it. PS--you better not be lying about Bruce Tull!"

We weren't lying and we did learn and record "Joanne" and send it off within 48 hours.
Woo!! And then...Doh!!! A mastering glitch occurred which made it so we were left off the first pressing. I.E. the version that went out to magazines, to Nesmith's website, and man we were bummed.
Still, we got on the second pressing and got some nice feedback from folks.
Just this morning, the Aloha Steamtrain version of "Joanne" came on the iPod and inspired me to make this little video to remind people about this funny little chapter in the story of Northampton's favorite psych/glam/pop band--that I played (still play?) drums in.

Punk and Garcia. 2500+ hits!? I guess I've tapped into something...

You'll notice that there are a few musical touchstones that I have and will continue to return to again and again. The Velvet Underground, The Monkees, XTC, The Grateful Dead, The Beatles...well, what can you do?
In any case, my journey with the music of the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia continues to evolve. I won't get in to it now, but there's stuff of theirs I used to like but don't now (Pig Pen), and stuff that used to bore me but now I love (ballads like "Stella Blue" and "Ship of Fools"). There's stuff I'll never like/downright hate (a lot of Bob Weir songs and cover choices). There's stuff I'm still discovering (never listened to the track "Blues for Allah" until a few months ago. It's pretty rad and just plain weird! The whole middle bit reminds me of the space bits of SY's Daydream Nation; Also, I just listened to the final 4 Garcia Hunter songs all in a row and it sure made me sad--because they're all great--just played lackluster by a tired band); I've also obtained an enormous love of 75-80 Jerry Garcia Band. The band (whichever lineup) is tight and thus Jerry's playing takes on a whole different flavor without all the clutter.
Anyway, this past summer, I came across a radio interview that Garcia and his forever bass player, John Kahn, did at a Rochester, NY radio station in 1978. I was so enthralled to hear his enlightened and positive thoughts on punk/new wave that I was inspired to make this movie.
For the record, not everyone of his era felt the same way. Folks like Stephen Stills and Glen Frey were openly scornful of younger bands. Eric Clapton admitted that he was scared of punk rock--that it would make virtuosity (such as his own...I guess) extinct.
Jerry sees it for what it is. He remembers that the Dead started out as young and snotty, and that the natural course is that you get better and evolve, or die out.

The Dead have had many punk/alternative fans: Greg Ginn, Henry Rollins, Elvis Costello, Sublime, Patti Smith, Lenny Kaye, David Lowery, Ryan Adams and Lee Renaldo all come to mind. I feel akin to these folks in that I imagine that, like me, they hone in on the good aspects and ignore the things that make it all too easy to dislike the band. I like to make mixes for folks of just studio versions of songs--Dead and solo Garcia, from 67-80, and say "judge this as if you knew nothing about this band". That's how I started to get back into them 3 years ago after wiping them out of my consciousness around 1990.

NOTE: so far only one viewer has registered displeasure with my ribbing the meandering on-air commentary by John Kahn. And I explain that I know well his musical genius and his 20+ year musical partnership with Garcia. I'm sure I've also meandered aimlessly while being interviewed on the radio. I know I have. It takes one to know one (a space cadet. I'm neither a bass player or a junkie). Anyway, enjoy.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Men In the Middle--the flowers that grow out of the ego dung

This post celebrates the amazing songs that sneak out of the quieter, less ego-driven members of bands. I know I'll miss some, but my point will be that often times, these are the songs that are the breath of fresh air in the course of an album.

Recently I was checking out the recently released Bee Gees 4-Disc set Mythology. Each Bee Gee, Andy Gibb included, although he was never a real Bee Gee, gets a CD dedicated to their material, hand picked by Barry, Robin and the widows of Maurice and Andy.

More or less, I was going to just grab the tried and true favorites, and enjoy hearing them newly remastered etc. "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart", "To Love Somebody", "Jive Talkin'", etc etc. Barry songs, Robin songs.
I was initially disappointed that a few songs that I consider to be absolute classics were not included: "Idea", "Kilburne Towers", "Red Chair Fade Away", "Kitty Can".
I also wondered whether there would be anything of note on Maurice's CD, since I always considered him more of a supporting member, providing bass, keyboards and lower harmonies. I'd read that he was the even-keeled one, acting as the "man in the middle" (also the name of a song he wrote for 2001's This is Where I Came In), when Barry and Robin's ever-battling egos reached new heights. I mean, Maurice (pronounced "Morris") knew that his "everyman" appearance and singing voice wasn't going to put his likeness on too many teenybopper's walls. Thus, he was the rock. The alcoholic rock, but the rock nevertheless. Also, he was the one with the greatest sense of humor. There are many tales of Barry walking out on anyone who regarded him as anything less than a genius. Maurice always seemed ready with a joke where Barry seemed incapable at laughing at, well, anything.

So...the Maurice CD on Mythology. Wow. Granted, on all the CDs, one must deal with the 80's and 90's stuff. But I had no idea that Maurice had written some very cool, very un-Bee Gees-sounding songs that were usually stuck in the 7th or 8th slot on the albums.
Odessa, from 1969, was supposed to be The Bee Gees magnum opus. A concept album about some sort of ancient war. But Barry ("Potty") and Maurice ("Pilly") couldn't quite get their druggy minds to focus enough to make it sound anything but "an ambitious attempt...".
One song that I really, really love from that album, that I rediscovered on the box set is Maurice's unassuming, understated, catchy as hell "Suddenly". Dig it. It kind of reminds me of my friend Lord Russ.

Other highlights from Maurice include "On Time" (which sounds like a Beck tune 20 years pre-Beck), and the gorgeous "It's Just the Way".

Lastly, one of Maurice's masterpieces is 1971's title track from "Trafalgar". A glorious chorus, with all the Gibbs chiming in.

Dennis Wilson also fits this profile. The Beach Boys were such a freak show. Brian, the genius who could never live up to his early promise; Carl, the peacemaker and "good guy"; Mike, the...the...words escape how to aptly describe Mike Love. Doofus? Annoying and embarrassing as all hell? Possibly the most unstable of all the guys? Lucky to have landed the gig? Nobody's favorite Beach Boy? The bane of Brian's existence?
Ah, but Dennis. Dennis wanted to party, to surf, to consume a lot of booze, drugs and female bits. He loved brother Brian. He could barely stand Mike Love. Dennis never played drums on record, but had a simple punk rock energy behind the kit in concert--when he wasn't too wasted or injured to play.
And guess what? Around 1969, as Brian's output was dwindling to a couple songs per album, and no one really wanted to hear Mike, Bruce or Al's attempts at writing, Dennis stepped to the plate and knocked about half a dozen tunes right out of the park. No pretense. Just honest, from the heart, soulful tunes sung in his nasal rasp--a very human voice. Go Dennis!

(well, Carl sings much of this, but Dennis wrote it and wails at the end)

Who else? could say Phil Lesh? Although the Dead always seemed to be a bit "beyond" ego battles. I'm sure they were there, but they operated quite well as a group, and if Jerry wanted to have a separate solo career, and save some great songs for his solo albums, then, hey man, whatever.
However, Phil did come up with two sublime Dead tunes that don't sound like anything else in their catalog:

and Dead fans had to wait another 4 years for another Phil song--the mellow fusion of "Unbroken Chain", which sounds like Brian Eno meets Spyro Gyra. You know what? I actually haven't a clue what Spyro Gyra sound like. I just assume they're jazz rock.

Dave Davies is a classic example. Ray Davies is famous for keeping Dave under his thumb. Belittling his little brother's contributions, giving back handed compliments, etc. And yet, Dave has come up with three of the best tunes, in my opinion, in the Kinks catalog.

and one of my all time faves, even if it was relegated to a B-side (I always wanted to cover this tune in personally sadder times. I hope to not want to cover it again.)
Dig the honesty.

Hmm..who else? Peter Tork?
He quickly saw that inter-band harmony was a lost cause, and stopped even offering up his songs for albums. He did have a big ego, but decided he'd fry big, big fish once he was out of the Monkees. Sadly, that didn't happen, as his party buddies Crosby, Stills, Jackson Browne etc were already onto their own stardom.
But in 1968, Tork shone in the sinking Monkees ship:

and this tune, which appeared in an episode, but the recorded version didn't appear until it was on one of the Rhino reissues in the 90's. But wow--they really shoulda released this in '68.

There are others, of course. And there are exceptions.
John Entwistle? No. Why? I can't think of a song I can't do without.
Mick Jones? Well, he scored a huge hit or two, didn't he?
Colin Moulding? Ditto.
David Crosby? Hmm...nah.
Chris Hillman. We might have something there. But The Byrds really didn't have a "lion's share" songwriter.

Oh my...I seem to have forgotten one very important guy. Possibly the one who had to deal with THE MOTHER of ego battles. No introduction necessary:

Thanks for reading. And thanks for the breaths of ego-free air, Dennis, Maurice, George and co.

I'm a Believer.. He's a Deceiver. The Lies of Neil Diamond.

It all started with the utter betrayal of Harry Nilsson that Neil Diamond felt he could get away with on his recent album of cover songs, Dreams. Read on, and you'll know what I mean, if you know what I mean, babe, if you know what I mean.

You know, know, know, oh lord have mercy how you know that I love the Neil Diamond.
Some reasons I love Neil Diamond:
--Hot August Night (1972). He's out of fucking control, and comes off as a little bit nuts when he's talking to the "tree people"...followed by an awkward silence...and he mutters "are you still there, tree people?" (in actuality, he's addressing those without tickets who were camped in trees outside the amphitheater. But it's fun to imagine that he's just losing his mind).
Because five minutes or so into the Soolaimon>Brother Love's Salvation Show, he DOES lose his mind. Listen.

That is a rock and roll scream to rival Roger Daltry and Jim Morrison.

I also love Neil because of beautiful, soul-soothing songs like "Stones", "And the Grass Won't Pay No Mind", "If You Know What I Mean" and of course, his tribute to his penis, "Longfellow Serenade" (don't look at me like that. read the lyrics).
I love that he allowed Rick Reuben to produce two records that found Neil writing his own songs and playing his own acoustic guitar for the first time since the mid 70's. They're good albums. Sparse, sad, tasteful. And I really really love that, if you look at Amazon reviews, quite a few of his "fans" found the alums "too depressing". Well look, you old hags, if you knew the real Neil, you'd know his life long battle with depression, his failed marriage, his twenty five year 2 pack a day cigarette habit...and lady, it's because of YOU that Neil Diamond has had to live a double life his entire career.

You remember the very funny Will Ferrell skit where Will is telling all those insanely dark tales as part of a Neil Diamond Storytellers? Well...I'm not saying that that was anything but comedy, but there does seem to be a pattern of deception.

I'll give a few examples.

1) 1968: The Pot Smoker's Song. Listen to this truly bizarre song. That is, if you can get through it.

Ok: it was supposed to be an ANTI POT song.
HOWEVER: the lyrics come across about as anti drug as Country Joe and the Fish's "Acid Commerical". The people interviewed in the song are talking about how speed, heroin or their dysfunctional families ruined their life.
So Neil, you get a failing grade for execution and songwriting and desired effect.
And now here comes THE DECEPTION:
Neil got busted for marijuana possession in 1976. He said he'd been smoking it since moving to LA from NYC in the early 70's. He says now "It made me stupid". Perhaps, but it coincided with his most interesting and melodic work.

2) Along the same lines: Neil covered Adam Sandler's "The Chanukah Song" last year.
Guess what? He changes the lyric to "DON'T smoke that marijuan-ikah". La la lame.

3) Tired of the drug stuff? Ok.
Neil was famously the out-of-place guy in The Last Waltz, although I've always loved his performance.

He was working with Robbie Robertson at the time, and, though Levon Helm objected, Neil was invited along. His huge ego was not invited, however, it too came along. I've read that after he came off stage, Neil passed Bob Dylan in the wings and said "try to beat that!". Dylan said "Ok, all I have to do is go on stage and fall asleep!". ZING!!!
In any case, Neil has since played down his appearance in The Last Waltz, saying "I wanted to be home with my family (it was Thanksgiving), so right after my song, I went straight to the airport". Sounds cute and domestic, but....
Really Neil? Who's that dude in the blazer and the shades and blown dry hair who seems to have stayed until the grand finale at about 1 am?

4) This hits home a bit. Ronnie Tutt. A drumming idol of mine, even before I knew his name. Did you ever watch any Elvis Presley specials from the 70's and say "oh my golly, who is that mad man behind the double bass drum, just pumping so much energy into Elvis' performance?". That is Ronnie Tutt.
He joined Elvis' band in 1970 and stayed with it until the King's passing in 1977.
Check this out:

So that's 1976-77. Not sure of the exact date.
Who else was Ronnie touring and recording with at this time?

Sadly, there's no video of Ronnie playing with Jerry (or Nicky Hopkins, famous for his work with the Stones, Kinks and Who).
But here's one of those "audio only" vids of a pretty upbeat number with both Jerry and Ronnie shining. I very much like the very end because it reminds me of a game show.

So, my point. After Elvis died, Ronnie also split with Jerry, and eventually joined with, you guessed it, Neil Diamond! Nice career move. He probably needed to get away from the very different, but no less unhealthy freak shows that the Presley and Garcia circuses supported.
Now..I don't know how much Neil has to do with this, but on at least one Neil Diamond site, Ronnie's work with Jerry is wiped from history.

Here's Ronnie's original quote, from

"On working with such legendary singers, Ron comments, 'If I had to narrow it down, the greatest music influences on my life would be Elvis Presley, Jerry Garcia and Neil Diamond. Elvis for the flashy, explosive, slightly out of control, style of playing that he brought out in me that mirrored his performance and personality, Jerry for his casual, laid-back, no hype, soulful style, but Neil has influenced me to be a disciplined team player. He leaves little to chance."
Now, on a Neil Diamond site,
the same quote, but one shaggy dog of a man seems to have been left out:

"On working with such legendary singers, Ron comments, 'If I had to narrow it down, the TWO greatest music influences on my life would be Elvis Presley and Neil Diamond. Elvis for the flashy, explosive, slightly out of control, style of playing that he brought out in me that mirrored his performance and personality. Neil has influenced me to be a disciplined team player. He leaves little to chance."

Wow. That's some sneaky censorship.

5) Last, but not least, the thing that got me thinking about all this. Neil recently released Dreams, An album of all covers, save one: a rearrangement of his own "I'm a Believer", of course made famous by The Monkees. I gave this new album a listen, and was very much looking forward to the final song, Harry Nilsson's "Don't Forget Me".

If you know and appreciate Nilsson, you know that he, like all of the best lyricists, mirror real life in their words by marrying humor with tragedy. That is life. A walk down the street offers things to make you cry with joy and with pity. A five minute news cast can play with all of your emotions. Nothing is all sad, nothing is all happy, no matter how you try to arrange things. Balance always occurs. Ok, Neil?
So when Harry Nilsson wrote "When we're older, and full of cancer/ It doesn't matter now--Come on, get happy!/ 'Cause nothing lasts forever/ But I will always love you"
That is just about as sweet of a thing that one lover (or friend) can say to another.
It's "Jesus Christ, some day, one of us is going to see the other die and it's going to be the most unbearable thing imaginable. But guess what? All there is is THE NOW, and look! You are the most most beautiful thing I've ever seen, and I'm seeing you right now, and god damn, this wine isn't going to drink itself, so let's enjoy it all while we're here!".
Right? Right? Nilsson knew the human condition.
Neil Diamond takes a walk through the Hallmark store at the goddamn mall, with its scented candles and flatulent senior citizens (that's a memory for my sister. we once heard an old lady totally fart in a Hallmark store and Alyssa said at first she thought it was a sax solo on the muzak)... know what Neil says?
"And when we're older/ IT'S HARD TO GET AROUND/ It doesn't matter now, come on get happy".
That's not only a cop out to the nth degree, it sounds like he spent all of 3 seconds thinking of it.

Instead of getting angry, I would now like to rest with the knowledge that Neil Diamond has to sing a word that most of us retired at the age of six:
"Song she sang to me/song she BRANG to me".

Neil, you can deceive us no longer. Not even with your bad English. The jig is up.
"But", as Harry Nilsson, and now you, sang, "I will always love you".

Saturday, February 19, 2011

This Tangent Leads to and from and back to Julian Cope.

Two nights ago, one of the bands I play in, School For the Dead, was practicing for our upcoming show with the legendary Mitch Easter. Keyboardist Ken was fooling around with synth sounds and landed on a bells sound which I said reminded me of Teardrop Explodes--that warble-y, almost out of tune sound. Ken, who has more records than almost anyone I know, surprised me by saying he didn't know any Teardrop Explodes. Whaaa????
Let me take you back 20 years and to where I first encountered the music of Julian Cope. In my 11-12th grade social scene, there were about six to eight dudes who hung out in a loose social scene with six or eight chicks. These chicks were all a year or two younger than we were, but that's because they were cooler and more interesting than anyone our age. They were into music, and really seemed to let it rule their lives. To me, they seemed magical and mysterious. None of them played music, but they sure loved it. And they each had their obsessions: Kate worshiped Jesus and Mary Chain. Melissa idolized The Cure and Bauhaus. Joni loved XTC and The Smiths. And Melanie adored all things Julian Cope.
I'm sure these characters will return in future posts, but must keep on track. Melanie lived in an apartment complex with her, I think, mom and step dad. She loved to make trouble for them. She also loved to do anything for her friends. Like steal me Sonic Youth's "Goo" (my first CD) or steal a fancy microphone for the singer of my band. In return, all she wanted was for us to love her company, which most of us already did, for the most part. But she always felt the need to go over the top with it. I could get into the "not enough love at home" spiel, but that's already pretty obvious. And if it isn't yet, then allowing an older boy to have his way with her, and her in return having to get an abortion when she was in 8th grade, should make it more obvious. Or that after many of her friends went away to college, she fell in with a heroin crowd (a drug which none of us had ever even seen) and was found dead in Colorado (a place none of us ever knew she'd relocated to). So, yeah. That was Melanie. Though we weren't close close friends, I always stuck up for her when people in our scene would grow exasperated with her overbearing tendencies. It really was a classic void that needed to be filled. But we were 17. We just wanted to smoke our Camels and drink our Denny's coffee. And take the train into Harvard Square. And maybe take some acid and climb some hills at night.
So, January 1991. My band, The Mean Wyoming, is recording their second cassette-only ep at Dan Isaacs studio in Andover. My sister had gone to Europe and brought back some NMEs. They were great to read while sitting around the studio. One issue was all about "eccentrics" and had a feature on Julian Cope. I was familiar with Charlotte Anne, World Shut Your Mouth and a few others that WFNX would play. In the story he talked about his extensive use of LSD. This very much intrigued me because a) in 1990-1, drug talk was on the wane in pop periodicals (unless talking about ecstasy) and b) in 1990-1, I was sure interested in LSD, and thus, wanted to know more about any artist who was too.

I asked for Melanie's phone number, which someone had, and called her, which maybe I'd done once before. "Melanie, is there any chance you could make me a Julian Cope mix?"
"SUUURE!" came the loud, enthusiastic, Minnie Mouse-pitched voice on the other end.
"Cool, whenever is convenient. Anyway, I'm here with the guys recording. Gotta go. Yes, I'll give them all a kiss from you.."
This was a snowy January day, as I remember. And in fact, I had some acid on me and I, and a few others in the party, were going to take some as the afternoon gave way to evening, as recording was wrapping up for the day. About 4 pm, we took it, and I was doing drum tracks with bass player Greg in the same room. Greg was straight. I was starting to get a mile wide grin, and the drums were changing sizes before my eyes. The drum sticks were glo-sticks made out of a flexible wax. I was good to go. Unbelievably, and this was an early rock and roll feather in my cap, I completed two very usable drum tracks while the acid was kicking in and then setting up house in my brain. "No Lies Today" was straight ahead pop with one of those Who-like "half time at the bridge" things. It did have a tricky fill that went along with the hook, but I handled it fine. Next, gotta keep rolling, let's do that suburban white boy disco thing, that will be sung by our dapper, eccentric, decidedly unfunky guitarist in his Calvin Johnson deep voice.
Ok, now this was a challenge. First off, I couldn't stop laughing. I could not imagine anything on heaven or earth giving me as much joy as this chemical in my brain mixing with the natural blissful endorphins of playing the drums, playing original songs with my best friends and recording it for a tape that our friends were going to buy. It was all fitting together magically and perfectly. Sort of a dangerous bite from the tree of knowledge. I mean, how can regular life measure up when you already know, at barely 18, what your bliss is? (I'm not crediting the acid for the bliss. If anything, damning it for giving me the insight to the bliss I'd be chasing the rest of my life. And still chasing and still loving most everything about it.)
I got the song, probably just a take, maybe two takes. Then walked out of the room, and met the engineer, also in the same state and we looked at each other and thought "that was truly awesome, but let's quit while we're ahead." We decided we'd all hit the town--Friendly's--but first, Dan needed to shower. He put on the tracks as they stood so far and went upstairs. We were dancing, some of us were laughing too hard to do much of anything, hearing the tracks, seeing my band mates dance...and I accidentally backed into the Christmas tree, knocking down and smashing an ornament. Dan came down from his shower and I told him about it. "You just broke the Sacred Christmas Orb! Oh. My. Fucking. God". I really did not know whether to take him seriously and decided I wasn't going to let it bring me down. "Guys!", I called to the others. "Dan says I broke the Sacrificial Christmas Org!" Which brought the absurdity to a whole new level and we knew we just had to leave and get out of the house and to somewhere we could have coffee and cigarettes.
A straight person drove us, and we sat in the back smoking section (weird to think of now). And who was there? Melanie. What did she have? A Julian Cope tape for me. "St. Julian" on one side, "World Shut Your Mouth" on the other side. MIRACULOUS! How did she know? Oh, right, I had called and asked. It seemed that phone conversation was 7 years ago. I'd forgotten all about it. I asked if she had the one where he's in a giant turtle shell because that sounded cool and trippy. She said if I liked those she'd tape me that.
I don't remember what else happened that night. But I do remember not really loving those Cope albums. Too 80's big production sounding. I stopped hounding Melanie for Julian Cope. And found I much preferred Kate's Jesus and Mary Chain stuff. Particularly the first two albums. And of course I was already an XTC and Smiths freak by then.

In any case, every once in a while, something in the air causes me to reflect on that time. One day at work driving the library van, before I lost all my tapes in a fire, I brought along Melanie's Julian Cope mix, and thought about how this now-deceased person I once knew, was sitting in her room making this tape for me very soon after I had got off the phone to randomly ask her to do it. And the thing of "how and why did she end up where she ended up?". It all happened once I was at college so I never found out much. So, I decided to use her rather mellifluous last name in a song, as a name for a fictitious town. It can maybe be seen as the after world. "Every other day you'll see her/ Right outside Biancavilla".

In January 2000, I was planning a solo trip to see friends in northern California and family in So Cal. I had just ended a long relationship and was feeling free and easy and full of hope for the future. I had been reading glowing reviews for the new Julian Cope memoir. I thought what most people thought: "Really? An above average musical output, a cult following, he's only in his early 40's...WTF, a memoir?". But the reviews all seemed intriguing so I brought it along on my vacation. And it indeed was an engrossing, hilarious, well written story. Divided in two: up to and including The Teardrop Explodes (until 1982) and since then (up until late 90's).

I had no idea whatsoever about the extent of the depravity of the Teardrops. Julian started that group in 78-79, adamant and self righteous in his scorn of any chemical intake. One album in, and he cannot seem to make a record, perform a concert or be on a television show without weed then acid then, I think, cocaine. And a shitload of all of them. The reader feels the same jubilation followed by post-comedown emptiness. For every high, there's a low. And the low never gets any easier, especially when the high loses its novelty. It's a good book for those who want an honest, non-preachy (there's no "I did it, but you shouldn't" moralizing. Nor any Keith Richards "I did it, and god do I miss it").
One weird thing, if I may divulge something. In 1979-80, at one of the Teardrops first shows in NYC, the young Julian Cope met an NYU girl, spent a night, and she became his wife. I laughed when I read this, because literally, the week before, the same thing had happened to me after a Figments show (except, for the newly-single me, that was that.) But I dug the coincidence, sitting there on the plane reading it. I imagined a young and nervous Cope in the same dorm room I was in.

I must get that book again, because it burned along with all my hundreds of books in the aforementioned fire a few years back. I miss it.

Yes, so, this essay has gone in many directions. Beginning with a synth sound to talking about a girl I knew who OD'd, to talking about tripping and recording, to talking about Julian Cope's amazing book and our rock and roll encounters in the city 20 years apart. I'd call it an eventful ride. A slice of life with too many toppings. Maybe this now means I'll meet Julian Cope. Need a drummer, Copey? I'm free after June. Let's close the circle.

ARRGH! This is the stuff that kills me. Two books that burned that I miss (I know, it was a long time ago. But I think of stuff I miss every now and again:) I used to own the Cope book. Now the cheapest copy I can find is $50. Another great book I got for FREE, rescuing from the library discard pile, is John Cale's What's Welsh For Zen?
I'm not paying $50 for that either. Anyway, just venting. Let me know anyone if you see either of these for cheap in random plces. I do so enjoy my rock and roll library.

Ok, put on a happy face. Here, I'll leave you with this. According to his book, Julian and the drummer were tripping their faces off when they did this Top of the Pops performance. I wouldn't have known. He's a great showman. And this is a classic slice of early 80's Britpop.
Points if you spot the two musical quotes--at least in my mind.
--the guitar/sitar solo is Pink Floyd's "Remember a Day"
--Julian la la's the melody of The Stones' "As Tears Go By" at the end.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nineteen (oh it hurts!) Years Ago tonight...

I was a freshman at UMass Amherst and I had heard that Michael Nesmith was going to be playing at Nightstage in Cambridge. It was a weekend, so I decided to make the trek, bringing along two other friends who were in it more for the Cambridge part than the Nesmith part. Also, didn't have a ticket. I can't remember if I didn't have one because it was 21+, or it was sold out.
Oh was indeed Valentine's Day, but I didn't even have the glimmer of a prospect of a hope of a Valentine. I was a very shy college freshman.
In any case, knowing that a Nesmith gig was as rare as Halley's Comet, I said "screw it, I'll try to sneak in". I was 19 and nothing would stop me.
It was bloody COLD that night. But we found Nightstage. The show had started. Perhaps if I was alone, the outcome would have been different, but here's how I remember it:
The three of us huddled in the entry, my jaw dropping and eyes bugging as I laid eyes on Nesmith 100 feet away, on a small stage, singing..."JOANNE"!!! We began to inch foward a bit when a tap on the shoulder brought me out of my trance.
"You have a wrist band?"
"You have a ticket?"
"Nuh uh"
"Adios, guys. Outta here now".

Fuuuuck. If it wasn't so goddamn COLD out, I would have been happy to mull about for the next hour and tried to catch Nesmith on his way out. But, really it was like 5 degrees. And I had to be happy with having seen The Man in the flesh, guitar in hand, crooning his biggest solo hit.

I found, not long ago, a bootleg of this very show online. Someone's blog. I had to hear it. I downloaded it, and...the sound was lousy. And you know what else? I'm sure being there ruled, and I still regret missing it, was 1992, and Nesmith's band had a very, contemporary sound. That Whitney Houston keyboard sound, latin percussion...and really, not many of that generation escaped the 80's-90's without using that kind of stuff at least a little bit. Also, judging from that bootleg, I don't think that the amazing Red Rhodes was at this show. Red, of course, is the pedal steel virtuoso who pretty much was a HUGE part of the best solo Nesmith stuff. Recently, Nesmith said that "El Rojo" smoked more weed than anyone he'd ever met. And Nesmith hung with Hendrix, Jack Nicholson and John Lennon. Perhaps they were all onto other vices by then. Red was old school.

In any case, here's a clip from Austin City Limits from around the same time. Red Rhodes, nearing the end of his life, is seen here in one of his final live performances.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Changing Fortunes of the Four Headed Monster: a review of Rhino Handmade's Reissue of "The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees"

To any of my Facebook friends, or to readers of John Hendrickson's excellent "Born to Rock and Roll" blog, this entry will be a repeat. But for the rest of you, enjoy. I'm stalling for time while I move house, so please understand. This was written just about exactly a year ago, shortly after the BB+M Deluxe reissue.

As a 13-14 year old absorbing the mid 80's wave of Monkee Mania, The Birds The Bees and The Monkees (originally released in early-mid1968) was never on my list of top three Monkees albums. That list did, and always will, consist of "Headquarters", "Pisces Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones" and the Head soundtrack. (Missing Links Vol 2 is amazing as well, but is a collection of tracks from 1966-69 that went criminally unreleased until 1990.)

So, The Birds, The Bees and the Monkees (hereforth referred to as "BBM"). First off, after two consecutive albums that had kicked off with hip Nesmith tunes, this one started off with Davy Jones schmaltz, telling me to "get out of (my) dream world". What is he, my mom? Furthermore, I didn't need to hear Daydream Believer one more time, I was disappointed to learn that the flamenco guitar in Valleri was not played (only mimed on the show) by Nesmith, Dolenz hardly registered on the album (and played zero drums) and Tork, besides the piano lick he wrote in Daydream Believer, wasn't on the album at all.

Thus, my cassette copy was constantly being fast forwarded and rewound to the sonic, surreal oases that were the four Mike Nesmith songs: Tapioca Tundra (psychedelic latin jazz pop--?--), Auntie's Municipal Court (country psych blues right out of Notorious Byrd Brothers), Magnolia Simms (a catchy, scratchy, in-one-channel-only pastiche of 1920's 78 records) and lastly, Writing Wrongs, which vies for strangest song in The Monkees' catalog: Two slooow verses of opaque queries, a 3 minute breakneck instrumental that could be the soundtrack to a guy on acid running around crowded city blocks being chased by a robot, and then one final slow verse that somewhat answers the questions posed in verses one and two.

Now, Rhino Handmade has released a 3-CD expanded version of BBM and it's a whole new world. An alternate universe where, if the bonus/unreleased tracks are arranged effectively, one can envision an amazing album that still may not have won over the over-14 crowd, but at least would not have been such a bipolar mishmash of dead-in-the-water pop trash and forward-thinking pop art. And, which would have included several gems penned by Peter Tork.

So what happened? Well, despite their 1967 power-play of "more artistic control", the Monkees circa 1968 were still being marketed to the teenies, despite their shelf life nearing its end, and at least half the band just dying for artistic recognition.
Their individual personalities were worn on their (no longer matching) sleeves, and this, combined with knowing the TV show was going to be canceled and that they were about to start filming a very un-Monkee-like movie (Head), contributed to a chaotic scene in Monkee-land.

Individually, the four reacted in suitably different ways. Davy Jones sort of seemed unaware, or in denial of the fact that his perfect smile was being replaced by someone else's in girls' bedrooms everywhere. Micky Dolenz thought (in the immortal words of The Minutemen), "maybe partying will help", and hosted/attended endless parties in Laurel Canyon, running alongside David Crosby, Eric Clapton, Harry Nilsson, various Beatles and Jefferson Airplanes. But he forgot about improving his drumming and songwriting skills, both of which had developed at an alarming rate the year before; Peter Tork was at the same parties as Dolenz, but was never without a guitar or banjo, thus getting himself on George Harrison's "Wonderwall" movie soundtrack, and getting Buddy Miles and half the Buffalo Springfield to play at his Monkees studio sessions; Mike Nesmith didn't socialize much. Apparently he popped Ritalin, bought cars, put on his shades and psychedelic tie, wrote a million songs, fathered two kids in the same year--one not to his wife--made some laugh while royally pissing others off with his wit and arrogance. He went to Nashville and recorded an album's worth of songs (that should've been his first solo album, but he was still under Monkee chains) with the same musicians that Dylan and the Byrds used on their country albums..what he didn't achieve was respect from his peers and journalists as a musical force to be reckoned with in the fast growing world of sophisticated pop music. Zappa, McGuinn and Nilsson were all admirers, but few others.

So this box set. Why is it worth shelling out and then waiting weeks for it to arrive?
Let me compile an alternate Birds Bees and Monkees and then insert it into rock's alternate history as one of the best albums of 1968 alongside Beggars Banquet, John Wesley Harding, Anthem of the Sun, Bookends, Ariel Ballet, Big Pink, Electric Ladyland and the White Album. All these songs were not on the original BB+M, or if they were, I've mostly chosen alternate mixes. I've also stressed songs that featured the last of the Monkees' collaborating with each other before they became completely a band in name only. This album would have blown some minds.

Side One:
Seegers Theme- Peter Tork's take on Pete Seeger's goofy instrumental. Featuring Buddy Miles (future Hendrix drummer) on drums.

Tear the Top off my Head (dolenz vocal)--one of Tork's best ever songs. Very Lovin Spoonful. Buffalo Springfield's Dewy Martin on drums, and Stills on guitar.

Tapioca Tundra (alt. mix)--one of Nesmith's trippy best. Fancy chords, straying from his usual default country folk progressions. This mix features some heroic drums not heard on the released version. His weird vocalizing at the end is equal parts singing, yawning and orgasm. Must have freaked out the 12 year olds.

War Games (first version)--we'll throw Davy a bone and include this anti war song he co- wrote. Nesmith produced and plays rhythm guitar.

Carlisle Wheeling--a lovely 3 verse Nesmith country tune, with Tork on banjo, in which he apologizes to his lady for not wanting to have sex quite as often as they used to . Or something like that.

Merry Go Round--a short Tork piano dirge lamenting lost youth. Scott Walker he is not, but it comes off ok.

Writing Wrongs--ok, this is the same version as on the album. But I just love this song. It's in its own world. It's almost 6 minutes long, Nesmith plays piano, organ and guitar and the middle bit is just pure repetitive, pre-Kraut rock weirdness. Should have been recognized in its time.

Side Two:
Auntie's Municipal Court--(nesmith+dolenz vocal, alternate mix)--basically a 12-bar, 12-string Nesmith country blues with acid lyrics. ("solid brass statuary guards the door/used to come as one, now comes as four/somebody here just sent for more/red and yellow cartoons saying 'we need two more than you'"). Gotcha, Mike.

P.O. Box 9847--alternate mix with Micky's Moog. This fact is never circulated outside Monkee camps, but Micky Dolenz bought the third Moog synthesizer in existence, and put it on a Monkees album immediately ("Daily Nightly" and "Star Collector" from Pisces Aquarius..). He used it again on this song, but it was mixed out of the official release. This is a cutesy Boyce and Hart song, but not horrible. I like the added Moog.

Long Title: Do I Have to Do this All over Again--this may be Tork's best song. It's on the Head soundtrack, but was slated to be on BB+M. I remember someone once saying the guitar solo, when it goes into 3/4 sounded like the Dead and I was offended. But now I know, it does kind of sound like The Eleven.

My Share of the Sidewalk--Nesmith wrote this obviously Nilsson-influenced song. Davy sings, a little weakly, but it's in 5/4 and above his vocal range. He had a tough job. But it's a groovy number.

Lady's Baby--not the version with the annoying baby noises. This is not a great song, but Tork recorded it about 10 times, trying to perfect it. Apparently the sessions would end with people tripping, screwing, drinking and smoking, and the engineer turning off the machines and leaving. He's got his buddy Buddy and other buddy Stills on this one.

Magnolia Simms--Nesmith's faux 1920's megaphone song. I'd use the 2010 stereo remix. It makes one appreciate the song more. Earl Palmer on drums.

Zor and Zam--yes, this is a dated anti war song, and a bit embarrassing. But Dolenz sounds more like Grace Slick than Grace Slick.

AND, I'd include an EP of acoustic demos:
Nesmith's Tapioca Tundra, Little Red Rider, Magnolia Simms and St. Matthew;

Tork's Seeger's Theme, I Prithee, Lady's Baby and Merry Go Round.

Dolenz's 4-aborted takes of the first verse of Shorty Blackwell (for comic effect)

lastly, Nesmith's demo take of My Share of the Sidewalk. He's definitely having a tough time playing piano in 5 and doing a live vocal take, but he gives the song an almost Rundgren feel, especially in the bridges.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A new document of an acid-fueled 1972 European Tour. (No, it's not who you might think)

I randomly came across a couple clips of this recently released documentary of Leonard Cohen's 1972 tour of Europe and was entranced by what I saw. Here's a published poet and author, in his late 30's, with a few albums under his belt, suddenly in the rock and roll world that is still relatively foreign to him (but, which he's quickly getting used to). He's clean cut, well dressed, well spoken...and taking LSD before going on stage. Huh? Well, I figured something was up when I saw this clip . I won't spoil it. It's intense and I gotta see this whole movie.
You just trust Leonard more in this setting, than, say, Keith Richards. No one's gonna wield a knife or introduce you to their sketchy friend who owns an island and a bevy of prostitutes and is on the lam. Let me know if you've seen this.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What's in a Voice? A light pondering of timbre and its inequities.

Humans are programmed to be prejudiced in a few shallow, sensory ways that most folks never take the time to think on and undo. Mike Nesmith, on one of those end-of-episode candid interviews on The Monkees television show, said something to the effect of, "people should teach themselves to dig things that are ugly because it takes no special talent to dig beautiful things". That's some sound wisdom. (Watch the first 2 minutes of this clip to see what he said. Ok, watch all of it, but come back here.)

It's well known that tall people command more immediate respect; and that someone with a deep, commanding voice will be taken more seriously than someone like, say, Harry Reid, with his Winnie the Pooh delivery, no matter how good their ideas. These prejudices are ingrained in us, and take some conscious evolving and introspection to get over (said the 5'7 writer begging to be noticed).
But anyway...timbre.
Or, more specifically, male pop vocalist timbre, and who is most effective at singing what, and why it's unfair how some get pigeonholed when really, no one can help what they sound like (unless they wanna pull a Dylan circa Nashville Skyline and willfully change their voice to get away from their image). Another point to consider is a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum. Example: Ray Davies' and Bob Dylan's nasal, untrained voices circa 1965-66, were perfect for the biting social commentary/satire in their lyrics of the time. Do we think that because it's what we know? Or is it truly better to hear sharp words from a non-singer than from a trained crooner? is this why David Bowie's mid 60's Kinks-esque stuff didn't make him a star, but once he found the cosmic subject matter that went better with his voice, his stardom was sealed?

Some fodder:

Lennon vs McCartney:
This pretty much sums up the basis of this thesis. There is the conventional, and very inaccurate, opinion that "Lennon is sincere, smart, witty.." and "McCartney is glib, insincere, all craft, song-and-dance and no emotion". Why? Timbre! Lennon was blessed with one of the coolest, if not the coolest singing voices in pop history. He could roar and yowl, make you feel his pain and send shivers down your spine ("Yer Blues", "Anna", Don't Let Me Down", "I Want You (She's So Heavy)"; he could command your full attention and control your emotions when in a thoughtful mood ("I Don't Want to Spoil the Party", "You've Got To Hide Your Love Away", "Norwegian Wood", "Julia"); and he could spike your drink with whatever he was taking that week ("Strawberry Fields", "I Am the Walrus", "Tomorrow Never Knows"). Listen to "Dear Prudence" and you just feel blessed afterward. You feel Lennon's presence.
On the other hand, Paul McCartney, when yowling ("I'm Down", "Helter Skelter", "Oh Darling") can sometimes make one cringe with discomfort. When singing a cute song ("When I'm 64", "Maxwell's Silver Hammer") Paul seems very at ease, which lends credence to the prejudice. Lastly, when singing a serious and emotional song ("For No One", "Elenore Rigby", "She's Leaving Home"), Paul seems distant and cold--he's reporting, not baring his soul.
So let's pretend Paul sang "Being For The Benefit of Mr. Kite". It'd be just another annoying, cute Paul song about the circus. But John's timbre makes it seem like a rather scary circus, even if he didn't want it to be. If John sang the beautiful "Mother Nature's Son", it'd be seen much more as a deep philosophical meditation than a pretty singalong. It's the Lennon/McCartney double standard that still seems to haunt Paul.

So there's our foundation. Thankfully, the "Paul sucks/John's cool" prejudice has faded with time, even if Paul continues to try and revise history by questioning who wrote what etc. They both were amazing. And Paul, any bass player or serious songwriter would agree, is one of the most musically gifted humans to ever walk
the planet. Plus, he's recently had a very impressive run of records going back to the mid-late 90's. His best stuff since the mid 70's. I recommend checking them out.

Lets look at other examples:

Gram Parsons vs Michael Nesmith.
Why is it hipper to like Parsons, and to acknowledge him as "pioneer of country rock" than Nesmith? Nesmith was strong-arming his country rock tunes onto Monkees albums before Parsons had released anything. One could say it's "because the Monkees aren't cool", but I say it's the voice that has a lot to do with it. Parsons could sing "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and you'd feel like crying in your beer. There's that warmth, that emotion, that looking you in the eye with a lifetime of pain. He's down and out (er, with a Harvard background..) and nothing's going to change--so you may as well buy him a drink.
Conversely, Nesmith's delivery is soothing and pleasant, but in a cold way. The way Dunkin Donuts is pleasant. He's not going to make you cry, he doesn't want to make you cry. He's not looking you in the eye when he's telling his story. You don't fear that he's going to hurt himself if you don't listen. You know that he'll be OK. He surely means what he's singing--but there's an emotional wall between him and the listener, even when he's singing about a devastating separation (and much of his 72-73 stuff seems to be about the end of his first marriage). He usually gives a moral at the end indicating that things will be ok. "Roll with the flow", "Keep on keepin' on", "You're alone and you sigh, and you try not to cry, but if it's coming, just let it come..don't let fear hold back the tears", "The Upside of Goodbye". Lots of silver linings.
I can tell you that "And The Hits Just Keep On Coming" is THE album to listen to for those who are going through an unpleasant break up but don't want to let it ruin their life; if one really just wants the unpleasantness to give way to a rebirth as opposed to a permanent scar. It worked for me. A bit of Blood on the Tracks, a bit of And the Hits Just Keep On Coming, and I knew I'd be alright in no time.

So..seeing as Nesmith is still with us and Parsons is long gone, is the voice also the mirror to the soul? I've often cursed the slight trace of glib laughter in my own singing voice, even when I'm singing something serious. Is it that I'm afraid of baring it all, or is it just the voice I was born with? I think I have that Jewish American pop voice that dares not let you in for a tour of its inner workings--Lou Reed, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon. Great and distinctive, but always reporting from the sidelines. Let the Irish bare their souls. They're much, much better at it.

Some more:

Elvis Costello--snide and bitter fit him like a glove. Thus, he's loved mostly for those early slabs of vitriol. The words, the image, the voice--all perfect and memorable. His subsequent forays into every genre under the sun often come off as just an act--a "let's see if I look good in this costume".

Joe Strummer--angry; the word from the street. He was born to a fairly wealthy family (like Gram Parsons) but was blessed with a certain distinctive delivery. Punk rock seemed to be invented for his voice. Even when singing funny lyrics, it's a bit like an imposing, slurring, wild-eyed stranger at a bar telling you a joke--you're not sure if things might get out of control in 5 seconds. It's exciting, but you hope no one gets hurt.

Kurt Cobain--again, the lyrics and the voice are tailor made for each other. you believe every fucked up word he's saying. Billy Corgan? Not so much.

Dave Matthews can tell Rolling Stone about how depressed he is and how dark of a person he is, but all the average person hears is...that voice. ("..and there's no mistaking it.." from "Really Dave Matthews" by Don Lennon)

Neil Diamond vs Leonard Cohen--I've often wondered, if Neil and Leonard Cohen traded voices, what would have happened? Would "Bird On a Wire" be heard as shmaltz? Would "I Am, I Said" be quoted by hip English professors? On Neil Diamond's recent two albums, "Twelve Songs" and "Home Before Dark", he wrote some of the best, deepest, darkest lyrics of his career, encouraged by producer Rick Reuben, who had him rewrite and rewrite. And, as a Neil fan, I can appreciate them. But will the casual listener just hear "that voice" and want to scoff? Many will. But there's a lot of good stuff there. Likewise, Leonard Cohen can do no wrong in many people's books, just because of the wisdom and lack of shmaltz embedded in his voice. (Or because he writes really, really, really great words).

Andy Partridge from XTC is another singer whose voice I've always loved, because I know he's gonna keep emotional depth at arms length (again, even if he doesn't want to--it's just how he sounds). I guess that says something about me. Maybe I deserve the voice I have. But Andy, in the beginning, sang frantically. Part Devo, part Joe Strummer (or, in his words, part seal bark, part Lemmy). It was raspier, with spit flying through the speakers. But this dude wasn't going to break a bottle and point it at you, or hit on your girlfriend. He really just wanted a laugh.
Post panic breakdown of 1982, Partridge developed what I assume was more his natural voice. It too is showy, but now there's no pretension to being punk or angry. It's more witty ringmaster. The guy who knows everything about everything but has no degree to show for it. You may actually want to shut him up. I know a few people who can't stand AP's voice. There's also an over enunciation mixed with his Wiltshire accent which gives all he sings a bit of a "smartest guy in the room" air. Put in the glasses, and this person who admits to having not read a book until his teens, is referred to as "bookish", "professorial" etc. Image image image. Not that he's not a brilliant guy...
And again, his voice is suited better to a happy melody, even if the lyrics convey misery ("Dear Madame Barnham", "That's Really Super, Supergirl") than actual down and out songs ("1000 Umbrellas", "Your Dictionary") which come off as a bit Broadway.

"What about the voice of Geddy Lee?"
What about it? Imagine that voice singing an angry political folk song. Now imagine it singing "Love Me Tender". Now imagine "Imagine". "Rock The Casbah". Geddy Lee's voice was no doubt created to sing the lyrics of Neil Pert. Divine right.

Cat Stevens: there's one reason why I can't get into Cat Stevens. His voice. I'm very sorry. Everyone has that voice they can't abide. Mine is Cat Stevens. Oh, and Harry Chapin. Squirm time. Take 2 steps back, chief.

Morrissey and Robert Smith--masters of mope, while straight up acknowledging their sometimes absurdity.
The Cure, while a great post punk band at their beginning, really didn't find their feet until they slowed things down and everything revolved around Robert Smith's hopeless, existential musings. The evolution of the hair and make up helped too. His voice, easily satirized, sounds at the verge of tears always. So "I've been looking so long at these pictures of you.." or "It doesn't matter if we all die.." hit their mark. "Friday I'm In Love", while a great pop song, is just kind of "uh, when are you gonna get sad again?"

Morrissey had the voice, words and image all sussed out from the very first Smiths single. Love it or hate it, here I am. Thus, they were an instant smash. Thus, it's pretty much a ball and chain, lest he risk career suicide. However, for every "woe is me" lyric, there's ".. no reason to talk about the books I read, but still I do.." ("Sister, I'm A Poet") or "I'm gonna be sick all over your frankly vulgar red pullover. See how the colors blend!" ("Our Frank"). Morrissey can deliver a joke like few vocalists can. Detractors can point to "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now" and say "my god! get a grip!". But all you have to do is point to the previous line "I was looking for a job, and I found a job". It's funny! It's the ever present light and dark of the human condition.
And yet, "Late Night, Maudlin Street" made me cry on a couple occasions. That's a good one.

Ok, well, this has been fun. Perhaps a part two will arise in the future. I realize this was all white men that I covered. An easy launching point. A good day to you.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Ballad of Garcia y Vega

During this chilly, chilly time of year, one of the most comforting voices I fall back on is that of Robyn Hitchcock. I just made a mix for a friend and was sure to include the appropriate songs for these icy/snowy days: "Freeze", "Winter Love", "The Black Crow Knows"...
And in putting on "Chinese Bones", I wondered afterward if I felt like finding the version of that song which marks one of the strangest cross-breeding events in late 20th century pop--namely, when, on September 24, 1988 at Madison Square Garden, Suzanne Vega joined The Grateful Dead on stage for two songs: her own "Neighborhood Girls" and, yup, Robyn Hitchcock's "Chinese Bones", which at the time was a pretty new song.
About two years ago, when I was delving into the world of the Dead further than I ever had before, I sought out this version. Most Dead things are easy enough to find, at least for streaming purposes, on
I've also since found a downloadable version, and when I've listened to it I always want it to be so much better than it is.
You can listen to it HERE
What do you think?

For those who would rather not bother...

My Impressions

Suzanne Vega: sounds nervous. Starts the song much faster than the Robyn version. She starts to sing and stops, while the band finds its feet, deciding where the "one" is. They're heading for a train wreck before they even leave the station. After a minute, they find the groove and Vega starts for real--on the wrong beat! So the first verse is a free-for-all, where the "one" is "anywhere you want it to be, maaan!" I think the boys wanted her to have an instant initiation to their bizarre world.

Billy and Mickey: the drummers sound like only one of 'em, not sure who, did his homework: namely that the snare plays on the 4 as opposed to the traditional 3. Thus, the drums are a cringe-worthy jumble for the first minute or two.

Phil and Brent: sound like the only ones who listened to the song. The bass sounds good and the synth does its part pretty faithfully.

Jerry: sounds like Jerry. In turn fumbling, noodley and occasionally sublime. I heard he learned the song backstage. What he plays has nothing to do with the Hitchcock version. Give him a break--he covered only 500 songs in his career.

Bob Weir--I can't tell what he's doing.

The band sounds like they're barely keeping up, but once the singing is over, they do the classic Dead thing, and turn it into a Dead song for a very groovy 3 minute jam, with Suzanne strumming along on acoustic.

I'd always imagined afterward Suzanne storming through the backstage exit and into a cab, humiliated and embarrassed that these stoned 40-somethings took her big moment and turned it into a mess in front of 40,000 Deadheads who didn't know who she was.

The True Story

But, it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth. After all, two years later, she recorded not one, but two songs for the Deadicated tribute album.

And here are two excerpts from interviews for proof. One with Jerry, a year before the MSG show, and one with Suzanne, from 2009, looking back fondly.
Garcia y Vega--it warms the heart, it does. The big papa bear and the elusive fawn.

Jerry Said...

Jerry Garcia Interview By Mary Eisenhart
November 12, 1987

JG: When I was in New York I went to see Suzanne Vega.

ME: Isn't she great?

JG: I love her. I offered to produce her next record. I'd love to do it, and I really have huge respect for her. I found her so real that I. . . She's very there.
I thought she was a wonderful performer. She is terrific, really really good. It's that thing of commitment to what you're doing, commitment to your music, and the thing of something real there. That means a lot to me. I just--
Whenever I run into these people, people who are getting into the music business, starting to build their careers and stuff like that, I feel protective of them.

Suzanne Said...

Suzanne Vega comes to town
New York Times Union
By Chris Harris

..While working with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse was a moment she'll always savor, nothing, Vega says, beats 1990. Just thinking back to that time puts a smile on Vega's face. "I was walking around New York and 'Tom's Diner' was this huge hit, and I remember standing by these truckers, who were unloading this truck, and 'Tom's Diner' was playing on this boombox they were listening to, and I was standing right near it and nobody knew that it was me," she says. "It was a great moment … I felt very embraced by the world that year. But nothing tops jamming with the Grateful Dead at Madison Square Garden."

Back in 1988, Vega joined the Dead onstage for three songs. "That's a moment that will never be recreated," she says. "It was mind-blowing. It was amazing. There was something about that moment and Jerry's energy…We liked each other and there was this nice spiritual connection there."